Almost every day I am asked, which is my favourite project, and why. More often than not, I mumble something about asking a mother to choose her favourite child and attempt to change the subject.
Today, I am going to make an exception.
Right here, right now, I’m going to share with you my five favourite shipwrecks. Maybe another day I’ll share another five, but for now, you’ll have to settle for these. They may not be the oldest, the best preserved, or the world’s most significant (although many of them are), but they are all very personal to me.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredible people on some fantastic projects. These are some of the standouts.
- KIZILBURUN ROMAN COLUMN WRECK
The Kizilburun column wreck is that of a late Hellenistic (323-31 BCE) marble carrier lost off the Aegean coast of Turkey in the 1st century BCE. The column wreck was first located at Kizilburun by Cemal Pulak, during the Institute for Nautical Archaeology’s (INA) annual shipwreck survey in 1993. It is one of at least five shipwrecks found in the vicinity. The others include a 4th century BCE amphora carrier, two Byzantine (330-1453 CE) wrecks and a Medieval (476 -1350 CE) millstone wreck.This ship went down while transporting all the elements of a monumental marble column, in the form of eight individual drums and a single Doric capital, bound for the Temple of Apollo at Claros.
Between 2005 and 2008 an international team of archaeologists, INA staff, and graduate students from the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University excavated the wreck, which lies at a depth of 45-48 metres. Donny Hamilton and Deborah Carlson directed the project. I was fortunate enough to be part of the 2006 field season, and it was incredible!
For more information, check out the Kizilburun Column Wreck Excavation on the INA website, and the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which houses the objects.
- THE SKULDELEV SHIPS
The Skuldelev Ships are five Viking ships which, having reached the end of their useful life, were filled with stones and deliberately sunk near Skuldelev in the Roskilde Fjord. The ships were scuttled circa 1070 CE in an attempt to block the channel and prevent invaders from reaching Roskilde, then the capital of Denmark. In 1962, after almost 900 years underwater, a cofferdam was placed around the site, the water pumped out, and the Skuldelev ships excavated under the direction of Ole Crumlin-Pederson.
A collection of warships, coastal traders and cargo boats, the Skuldelev ships are now on display at Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum, one of my favourite places on the planet. The importance of these ships is impossible to overstate. Until their discovery, we knew almost nothing about Viking shipbuilding, seafaring and long-distance trade. In short, the sips, and their incredible reconstructions, have turned our knowledge of Nordic maritime culture upside down, and opened the door to the Viking world.
For more information, check out the Skuldelev Ships at the Viking Ship Museum, which houses the conserved ships and their reconstructions.
- NANHAI ONE
Nanhai One is an 800-year-old Southern Song Dynasty merchant vessel from China, which sank in 25-metres of water at the western mouth of the Pearl River in around 1127–1279 CE. Discovered by a commercial salvage company in 1987, Nanhai One gave birth to maritime archaeology in China. After nine separate excavations, Nanhai One was raised in 2007 and moved into the Maritime Silk Road Museum for further investigation.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Nanhai One several times now, and she is an incredibly rich find. The ship has so far yielded over 120,000 artefacts – more than double that of the Mary Rose and Vasa combined – and excavation is ongoing. A time capsule in the real sense of the term, Nanhai One has the potential to tell us more about Song Dynasty trade, society and technology than any other site in Chinese history. If you have any interest in the ancient Maritime Silk Route, this is an absolute must-see!
For more information, check out the unique purpose-built Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum, which houses the ship and her artefacts.
- MARY ROSE
Mary Rose was England’s King Henry VIII’s flagship and the pride of his Tudor fleet. Constructed in 1509–10 CE, Mary Rose had a successful 33-year Naval career, that sadly ended when she sank during a battle with the French in 1545. Henry was devastated. In 1971, after a six-year search, diver Alex McKee located the wreck in the Solent off Portsmouth. After extensive archaeological excavations directed by Margaret Rule, and involving over 600 divers, Mary Rose rose from the deep in 1982, along with more than 19,000 artefacts.
In 2005- 2006, rescue excavations directed by Alex Hildred recovered the stem post, bow castle and anchor. I was again fortunate to be part of that. Mary Rose has taught us more about life in Tudor times than any site ever before, for since! The ship is on display in a new purpose-built museum in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and is an absolute must-see!
For more information on the ship, its archaeology, or when you can see it again, visit the Mary Rose Museum online.
The ornately decorated Vasa was the pride of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus as he built his nation into a global power. Constructed in Vasa in 1626-27 CE Vasa, unfortunately, sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 CE, having sailed barely 1300 metres. In 1956, divers Anders Franzén and Per Edvin rediscovered the ship. Vasa was lying intact in 32-metres of water, pristinely preserved by the cold, brackish waters of the Baltic. The excavation yielded approximately 40,000 artefacts, including some 700 sculptural pieces that were once attached to the hull. These evidence the fitting out and armament of the ship, and give us an insight into shipboard strategy and warfare. For me, it is the personal possessions of the crew, along with the skeletal remains of 16 men and women (some still wearing shoes and clothing) that are the most significant. They reveal the true nature of what life was like at that time, and for me, that’s what maritime archaeology is all about.
After 333 years on the seabed, Vasa broke the surface again in 1961. She now stands proudly in the purpose-built Vasa Museum in Stockholm. To this day, she remains the world’s largest archaeologically recovered ship. I was lucky enough to work on her during my student days at Southampton, and it is an opportunity for which I will forever be grateful. If you ever get the chance to go to Stockholm, Vasa is quite simply a must-see!
For more information about Vasa and the incredible research by Fred Hocker and his team, visit the Vasa Museum online.
Image © Institute for Nautical Archaeology
2 thoughts on “My 5 Favourite Shipwrecks”
I recently watched a documentary on the “SKULDELEV SHIPS ” and was fascinated. I am currently studying Ancient Egypt and the Near Easat at Uni and “KIZILBURUN ROMAN COLUMN WRECK” was of interest.
I will now follow up at the suggested on line sites.
Hi Anne! How wonderful to hear from you! The Skuldelev Ships are fascinating. I am fortunate enough to have spent many weeks at the Viking Ship Museum and to have worked with (and learned from) Ole Crumlin Pederson, he was truly a marvellous man. Let me know if you ever need any additional information. Merry Christmas!
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